Friday, June 25, 2010

You Are What You Eat…and Other Reflections on Team Rwanda and Cycling


I never set out to work with Team Rwanda.  When I landed here in April 2009 as a wide eyed, save the world volunteer my sole focus was Project Rwanda and the marketing, sales and distribution of the PR Coffee Bike (which we promptly made a "Cargo Bike" in the name of marketing!).  Of course, as a competitive cyclist, I was always interested in the Team, that's just how us cyclists are, we love the thrill of the competition and the rise to the challenge, overcome mentality of athletes, particularly our kindred souls in cycling.

I was up to my seat post in NGO renewal paperwork, transportation logistics for the cargo bikes and simply trying to organize and run the PR houses.  I am a "systems" thinker and the act of organizing and streamlining is not simply a job it is my M.O.  I physically and mentally cannot have it any other way.  I LOVE files, balancing my checkbook to the penny and sitting back to observe a well oiled machine, whether that is a business, an NGO or a cycling team.

Because I was a cyclist, Jock asked me to do things when he was away to help with the Team.  All of these tasks came on top of the ones I already had committed to with PR.  Besides my organization freakdom, I am a workaholic that cannot say no to another task.  (I will be getting professional help for this!).  My first job was driving the support vehicle (we didn't actually have one at the time and had to rent a sputtering, bald wheeled, Rwandan pick up) for the Tour of the Volcanoes in June while Jock was in California.  I was hooked.  The 2009 TOV was the first race for Gasore.

 Alex (Gasore) Blog: It Is About the Bike June 2009

Throughout last summer, I worked on organizational projects for the Team in my spare time.  I couldn't help myself.  I was asked to do some "Visas" for one of the Team races and I spent hours looking for passport photos, paperwork, addresses, etc.  To the organizational freak that is sheer torture.  I remember asking Jock for information and my thought was, it would be so much simpler if we had all this info in one place.  I spent weeks assembling online files of photos, data on the riders, paperwork, forms etc and now instead of hours to process visa/race paperwork it now takes me literally minutes.  It has helped the Team be more efficient and the Rwandan Cycling Federation gets a file update monthly.  Now, when a new rider comes to camp and is tested, his ID card is scanned, a file is opened for him (love those files) and all his test data is stored.  I keep copies of passports and one master data sheet for races which is revised for each race showing only those riders attending.  When the Team heads to an international race, Coach gets one file with copies of all the vital online paperwork, registration, visa copies, etc.  It has made traveling so much easier, especially since traveling with Rwandans always require visas.

After my vacation in December, when camps were starting up again and racing season was beginning, I talked to Jock about working on upping the nutritional content of meals during camp, particularly, breakfast, a meal that had generally consisted of the horribly nutrition deficient, cardboard white bread and bananas.  I know as a cyclist that would be a guaranteed bonk breakfast for a 100 mile training ride.  About that time, like an answer to a prayer, I receive an email from a young woman living in Kigali, Jill Rizzi.  Jill is a young woman suffering from Lupus, who took her disease and fought it solely through nutrition.  I liked her from the start and I loved her belief in organic, real foods for health, nothing chemical.  Her search for the right, nutrient dense menus based on our lack of protein and access to variety in Rwanda was impressive.  Jock met with her and hired her to come to Musanze for a camp.  Jill introduced the riders, and the new Team cook, Petty, to a whole new way of eating and awakened all of our taste buds.  Max's favorite is still "Asian Night".  

Sadly, Jill was only with the Team a couple of months, and unfortunately, needed a full time income and was forced to return to the U.S.  Her impact is still felt in the amazing salads Petty makes and the food sources we have secured with the fish and egg markets.  I would recommend Jill and 3HealthyChicks if you want to get healthy and stay healthy and want to do it the nutritional way.  Visit Jill and her company on Facebook.

3HealthyChicks on Facebook

As time progressed, I started riding with the Team (I can keep up with them during warm up) and learned a little bike maintenance.  The riders laugh and shake their heads when I actually do fix something on their bikes when Max and Jock are not here.  It is just not a "girl" thing they are used to.

Jock also started riding with the Team, swapping motor pacing for pedal to pedal coaching which has produced great results.  He goes through the strategy before the training ride using the  little bicycle guy figurines to demonstrate the race tactic they will be training on.  Through a book called the Talent Code, brought over by one of our board members, Dan Cooper, the power of visualization especially considering the language barriers with the riders has improved their training rides.  

The level of the riders has increased substantially with the addition of new talent.  Gasore is coming into his own and won the first stage at an international race earlier this year.  Nathan is the Team Captain a role he naturally gravitated towards and the position the other riders respect.  His younger brother, Nicodem, is also a natural born leader, most proficient in English and always taking care of the younger riders like Gasore.  Both are riding strong.  

Other new riders include Eric, a tall strong young man who showed great potential in the recent Tour of the Volcanoes.  Team Rwanda's newest standout however, is Innocent aka Rocky aka Rockstar.  Six short months ago this young man was spotted on the road to Gisenyi by Max and Jock.  Today, after a two month stint at the UCI Training Center in South Africa, he is one of the strongest riders, taking all five sprints at this past training camp.

In just one month Nicodem and Gasore will be traveling to the UCI Training Center in Switzerland for a one to two month stay at the center.  If Gasore can lose the extra 5-7kgs of weight he's carrying in his upper body from years of hauling potatoes, his watts per kilo will be over 6, in the pro range.  

Just this past week we had our last training camp before we all leave for the U.S.  Training camps have become a lesson in organization and focused routine.  

The Riders come in on Day 1, their rooms made up with clean sheets and a towel for each rider.  They dump their dirty riding clothes in a large bucket outside their rooms on the way to the shower.  Those clothes immediately get thrown in the washer (Hallelujah for a big ass American washer Team Rwanda bought a couple of months ago!).  After their showers, they get a snack of fruit, hard boiled eggs, avocados and whole wheat bread (if we can find it!).  After their snack, all of the riders pick up their dishes, wash them and straighten up their eating area.  Never is a word said, never do they argue over whose turn it is to wash the dishes, it just happens.

On Day 2, they are fed a full breakfast, generally consisting of cracking 4-6 dozen eggs, oatmeal, beans, rice (brown if we can get it), fruit and avocados.  During breakfast, Jock tests new riders.  Veteran riders such as Nathan and Nicodem help Jock with setting up the Velotron.  They have taken on this responsibility without being asked....again, it just happens.  Max is working in the garage during breakfast preparing the bikes for the training ride.  

After the training ride, the routine starts anew, showers, clothes washed and off to lunch.  After lunch it is cycling race video time.  Again, visualization of races such as the Giro, TDF, Tour of California, etc., is instrumental in their growth as a tactical rider.

Dinner, English lessons...bed.

As the Team prepares to leave on Day 3, they are once again fed a huge, protein/carb balanced breakfast, they do the dishes, check their bikes, strip their beds piling all the sheets in the hall, pick up pictures I have printed off for them (they love the pics!) and say their goodbyes.  Remarkably, nothing is ever said about who does what, it all just happens.

I am grateful for my experiences with the Team.  It has been amazing to have now driven the support vehicle in four races.  In the last race, last month's Tour of Volcanoes, Max was again in his spot in the back seat ready to change a wheel, hand off food and water, or repair a disabled bike.  As we pulled into Kigali he laughed as he remembered in last year's TOV that I had missed the turn into Kigali (rookie move).  He told me, "This year, you drive good, and this year my English better."  How true....I think we just all understand one another and appreciate what we all do for each other, riders included.

I hope to be back driving a Team Rwanda support vehicle in this year's Continental Championships and Tour of Rwanda, even though I still can't speak French! If not....maybe I'll just start racing, you're never too old.

51 Year Old French Woman Wins National Time Trial


 


 

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